Trail names

“At present our only true names are nicknames. I knew a boy who, from his peculiar energy, was called “Buster” by his playmates, and this rightly supplanted his Christian name. Some travelers tell us that an Indian had no name given him at first, but earned it, and his name was his fame; and among some tribes he acquired a new name with every new exploit. It is pitiful when a man bears a name for convenience merely, who has earned neither name nor fame.” – Thoreau

On the practice hike last weekend I started reading Thoreau’s “Walking”. I did this partly because Christy was reading and I wasn’t ready to go to sleep yet, and partly because it was a title that I had been able to download for free to my phone and I wanted to test the battery. I did have other titles from which to choose but I chose this one because the title itself seemed peculiarly suited to my impending adventure. I continued reading it this week and came across this quote which reminded me of the phenomenon of trail names which (to my memory) I have yet to share on this blog.

The AT thru-hiking community has a number of distinguishing characteristics, but one in particular is that every hiker is given a trail name. Trail names are so ubiquitous that hikers are recommended to tell their family back home as soon as they receive one in case something happens to them – other hikers may end up only knowing them by their trail name. I’ve mentioned some that I’ve seen/encountered in previous posts: Zipper, Rusty Bumper, Portrait, Moondoggie, Gumby, Fishhead, Ghost, Buffalo, Peach, The Diva.

It seems everyone on the trail gets a trail name whether they want to or not. Some hikers name themselves before setting foot on the trail. Although I won’t begrudge them the right, I don’t believe in this practice. As they say in the AT community, hike your own hike (HYOK). But why would you willingly remove the sense of community that can be derived from the anointing of nicknames? When I was on the crew team in college (all of 1 year) we made it a point to give each guy a nickname. We derived hours of fun looking for opportunities in the silly things people did, discussing possibilities based on attitude and character, and debating between possibilities. I really believe that the whole exercise of giving each other nicknames brought us all closer together. To this day I can’t see someone from the crew team without being reminded of my nickname! I don’t share it here mostly because I don’t want it to influence the selection of my trail name.

I’m looking forward to getting my trail name. I do feel, as Thoreau said, that a trail name is something that should be earned rather than borne for convenience. As my start date gets closer I sometimes ponder the ways my name might come about. Will it be something about my clothing (as Fishhead’s was)? Will it be some attribute of my personality, background, or hiking style that the other hikers fixate on (as Ghost’s and Peach’s were)? Or will it more likely be something stupid I do that must be forever indelibly assigned to me via a related nickname (as my crew nickname was)? I don’t know, but it is an experience I’m looking forward to no matter how it comes about. And when it does you’ll find out here soon after, complete with backstory.

Random tidbits:


Today I inventoried the stash of dehydrated meals. We’re cooking 2-3 meals per week, but most meals we make divide into 4 meals which can conveniently be spread across the 4 trays of the dehydrator. Currently we have the following:

Meal Count
Beef Stew 4
Black Bean Stew 4
Black Bean Stroganoff 4
Blue Cheese Potato Puff 4
Chicken and Rice Curry 2
Cowboy Pasta 3
Lasagna 5
New Mexican Stew 3
Saucy Tuna 4
Stirfry Salmon 4
Tortilla Casserole 3
Tuna Souffle 3
Turkey Chili 6
Vegetable Stew 4
Zucchini Casserole 4

The plan is to make 1 more batch each of Cowboy Pasta, Tortilla Casserole, New Mexican Stew, Tuna Souffle, and 2 other (probably new) recipes. This should give me an inventory of approximately 75 meals before I leave for the trail. Assuming it takes me about 150 days to finish the trail and that for about 20-30 of them I’ll be either in a town, at a hostel, visiting Christy, or otherwise in a place where I can get a civilized meal, I should only need about 40-50 more dinners. Assuming they are done over 5 months and that each batch makes 4 meals, that leaves Christy with about 2 batches to make per month, which should be do-able. This also leaves some wiggle room in case for whatever reason once I start I realize that I don’t want to eat dehydrated meals the whole way to Katahdin, I can let Christy know and she can stop cooking and simply space my remaining meals across the rest of the trek.


I got a physical a few weeks ago and my doctor gave me a clean bill of health – I am physically able to take on the trail! I do still have some nagging injuries including the aforementioned chondromalacia patella. However these all seem to be subsiding. My back feels good (herniated disk almost 10 years ago, started seeing a chiropractor about 2 years ago and made it all better!). My achilles tendonitis from about 2 years ago is pretty much gone. The big question is still the knee, but over the last couple weeks exercising it has made it feel much better. I think I just need to strengthen it a bit more and I’ll be ready to go, although I’ll still be taking the patellar support strap just in case.

One thing I also talked to the doctor about was the possibility of Lyme disease. I read several hikers’ trailjournals last year and almost all of them mentioned that someone they knew on the trail contracted the disease. Apparently last year it was particularly bad on the trail. With the warm weather we’ve had this year I suspect the ticks will be out en masse once I reach Virginia/Maryland. I asked my doctor if he could write a prescription for me in advance in case I observe the tell-tale symptoms (i.e. bullseye rash after a tick bite, flu-like symptoms, joint pain, etc). I was glad when he agreed. He did give me some precautions about side effects of the antibiotics and getting seen by a doctor anyway if I become symptomatic, but I’ll feel much better about carrying the prescription with me so I can begin treatment immediately if necessary.

Delta Society

Only a few days left to donate to Delta Society if you want me to start the trail without any hair on my head! So far it isn’t looking good, but a few large donations could still seal the deal. Don’t forget you’ll be able to deduct the contribution from your 2012 tax returns (assuming you itemize)!

Categories: Preparations, Training | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Trail names

  1. Hmmmm…. nicknames….nicknames… I recall when nicknames were sometimes good but sometimes hated by the kids who had to “wear” them.

    In my own life, childhood days, I recall most often earning the unimaginative nickname of “four eyes” … sure I wore glasses from the age of less than a year old, but how did that really earn me the nickname? To that name, I simply never answered.

    When I returned to the States after living in England for three years, my nickname quickly became, “English Muffin.” I worked very hard to rid myself of the British accent so that I could lose that name.

    Sometime in High School, someone dubbed me, “Tweety,” though, to this day, I have no idea why…. friends from that era, still remember me by that name. It didn’t bother me, but I had no idea what I’d done to deserve it.

    Within my first week in college, my new dorm friends took to the practice of calling me, “Fletch.” Of all my nicknames, this one suited me best and for the rest of my college days I would be known by this nickname. Last year, when I reunited with old college friends through FaceBook, I had to laugh… I will be forever “Fletch” to them.

    I look forward to hearing what Trail name you acquire.

    I’m happy to hear you got the meds for Lyme Disease. Stay healthy, and have a great hike. I’ll be looking for whatever updates you post along your journey.

    • Somewhere around high school/college nicknames seem to go from being something kids do to make fun of each other to something they do to show affection. Trail names definitely fall in the latter category – at least that’s my impression. However if I were to do something stupid for which there is an obvious nickname, I’m sure it would stick…

  2. So how do you sign the early log books if you don’t have a nickname yet?

    • I’ll sign them with my given name. Once I get a trail name I’ll sign for a few days with both names, then after a while I’ll drop my given name. That way hikers behind me will be able to see that I’ve been given a trail name if they’re following my entries.

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